Restaurant and bakery offer authentic French delights
Bite into a croissant from Le Petit Paris, the latest venture from the team behind Le Voltaire, and you’ll find yourself transported. The crusty outer layer crackles with a delightful crunch, revealing layer after soft, flaky layer. It’s a treat that begs you to close your eyes and just enjoy. “It’s gorgeous,” says restaurant and bakery owner Cedric Fichepain.
Fichepain, who opened French restaurant Le Voltaire with wife Desarae in 2001, continues his tradition of bringing the best of France to West Omaha with the new bakery. The two eateries are tucked in a corner of the Pepperwood Village strip mall at 156th and Dodge streets – a “little corner of France in West Omaha.”
Fichepain grew up in a Paris suburb and first learned to love cooking through his mother and grandmothers. As a teenager, he threw a large, five-course New Year’s Eve party for friends – the first inkling that his culinary interests might one day turn into a career. Even though he would eventually study marketing and economics, the culinary delights of his youth stayed with him. “When you bathe in this great food all the time, you’re bound to be addicted to it.”
During his high school years, Fichepain moved to Italy. He was seeking to improve his English skills, and a friend mentioned Omaha as the perfect destination: Since no French people lived in Omaha, he’d have no choice but to learn the language. At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he met Fremont native Desarae Mueller. She followed him back to France for her own study abroad experience. After living in France for a time, the two moved back to Omaha in 1997, and Cedric started thinking about opening his own restaurant with Desarae.
“It was a bet when I came to this location,” he remembers. Back then, fine dining restaurants were concentrated in the Old Market area. The 156th and Dodge intersection was at the very edge of Omaha development. “When we opened, we looked at each other at the first day and thought, ‘What the hell are we doing?’”
But Fichepain sensed his gamble would pay off. With Le Voltaire, he envisioned a restaurant that captured the Mediterranean flavor of the south of France while offering a menu that covered the best of all regions of France – plus recipes from his grandmothers. It would be a place where people could feel transported with beautiful dishes, impeccable service and reasonable prices. And they wouldn’t have to drive downtown for the experience.
“As soon as you come in, you are in a different world,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to showcase — to make people travel without a passport.”
Fichepain says many customers come to Le Voltaire to remember previous travels to France or the Mediterranean. On the menu are famous French dishes including beef bourguignon, coq au vin, Alsatian sauerkraut and duck cassoulet. Brie Josette, baked brie served with an apricot-cranberry chutney, is inspired by his grandmother; Rosemary’s crumble is inspired by his mother-in-law. The menu, written in French with English translation, changes every six months. The restaurant also boasts the most extensive French wine list in Nebraska.
The bakery offers a complement to the restaurant. French baker Yann Kogut, dubbed the Best Young Baker of France 2009, daily creates an array of classic pastries, artisan breads, macaroons and quiches and tarts – and of course, the perfect croissant.
These days, Fichepain’s efforts to bring a bit of France to Omaha have moved beyond food. He was recently appointed as honorary French consul for Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. The post allows Fichepain to work with the French consulate to promote the country of France in the Midwest.
“It’s an honor to be far away from my country, but still be able to showcase what France has to offer,” he said.
Le Voltaire and Le Petit Paris
156th and Dodge, Pepperwood Village